Law School Case Brief
Stevens v. Iowa Newspapers, Inc. - 728 N.W.2d 823 (Iowa 2007)
Summary judgment is appropriate only when the entire record demonstrates that no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The appellate court reviews the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.
Defamation by implication arises, not from what is stated, but from what is implied when a defendant (1) juxtaposes a series of facts so as to imply a defamatory connection between them, or (2) creates a defamatory implication by omitting facts, [such that] he may be held responsible for the defamatory implication, unless it qualifies as an opinion, even though the particular facts are correct.
A freelance newspaper columnist brought a libel suit against the newspaper owner, a reporter, and an editor, when a column was written containing accusations regarding the accuracy of the columnist's reporting. The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment, concluding that, without deciding that a claim for defamation by implication was recognized in Iowa, and the columnist appealed. The court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. The columnist sought further review from the state supreme court, specifically challenging the appellate court's findings regarding certain statements that were made about him in the newspaper. The supreme court found that the statements at issue, that the columnist rarely attended the events he covered; that his original column contained numerous factual errors and unsubstantiated claims; and that his redraft of his final column continued to include factual errors and "near" libelous characterizations, were all basically true.
Was the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants proper?
The supreme court concluded that despite the columnist's status as a public figure, he could maintain a suit based on alleged defamation by implication. Furthermore, a reasonable jury could have found by clear and convincing evidence that the statement that the columnist rarely attended events about which he wrote, without revealing to the reader what the reporter knew (that personal attendance was not required by professional standards) was false in its implication and was made with reckless disregard for the truth. Thus, the summary judgment on this issue was improper. However, summary judgment as to the statements about the columnist's factual errors was proper as they were true.
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